Mike (pictured standing) is Thales’ Chief Engineer for Civil UAS activities and has been involved in the ASTRAEA programme from initial contract award in 2006. He was team lead for all technical work performed by Thales at Crawley with a focus on Sense & Avoid. The work also involved significant effort on issues such as autonomy, communications and human factors with both a technical and regulatory aspect.
“ASTRAEA 1 was a real eye-opener for me,” Mike said. “What we initially considered to be a mainly technical problem turned out to be far more wide ranging in terms of regulatory dimensions, and we also had new challenges in terms of linkages with SMEs and acasdemia.”
But Mike and his team quickly learned the ropes, overcame those early challenges and created a new System Integration Laboratory at Crawley. This became the ideal tool to develop ideas and engage with ASTRAEA’s wide variety of stakeholders.
In ASTRAEA 2, Mike refocused the Thales effort around the sense & avoid and collision avoidance areas. This resulted in an acceleration of the work performed in ASTRAEA 1 and included the addition of a trials programme. Again as technical lead, his ASTRAEA 2 responsibilities include delivery of technical and trials aspects and supervising the team of engineers working on the trials, plus sensor modelling and algorithm activities.
“I’m also involved with the regulatory initiatives,” he said, “and work closely with the ASTRAEA Regulatory Coordinator (Andrew Jones) – in fact, we share an office.”
Mike sees ASTRAEA as the key programme for furthering the potential exploitation of UAS technologies. It has brought together large and small companies, government agencies, academia and stakeholders in a unique collaboration with a common goal.
These otherwise distinct groups have been able to share work and engage with each other in a manner reminiscent of, he said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
Mike recalled initial misgivings about ASTRAEA and what it could achieve but he’s definitely seen the light. “This approach has paid dividends,” he said, “particularly in the regulatory arena but we’re also way ahead technologically.”
One of the issues regarding the exploitation of UAS has been the technology involved – it’s revolutionary so making predictions for future applications is still very difficult. But Mike’s convinced civil use of UAS will grow exponentially as technology and regulations coordinate and evolve.
“Public perception is also a key area,” Mike said. “We must be able demonstrate to the general population, beyond doubt, both the safety of UAS operations and the benefits they will bring to the civil domain.”
About Thales and Thales UK
Thales is a global technology leader for both the defence & security and the aerospace & transport markets. In 2009 the company generated revenues of £11.5 billion (€12.9 billion), with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. With its 22,500 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design, develop and deploy equipment, systems and services that meet the most complex security requirements. Thales has an exceptional international footprint with operations around the world, working with customers as local partners.
Thales UK employs 8,500 staff based at 40 locations. In 2009, Thales UK's revenues were around £1.5 billion.